Lack of Significant Water Funding in Budget confirms that Water Legislation is Needed Now

    TORONTO, March 25 /CNW/ - While the Ontario government has responded
positively with $1 billion to concerns about the crumbling provincial and
municipal infrastructure, virtually all of that new funding confirmed on
March 25, 2008 is for public transit, roads and bridges.
    Today's budget was expected by many industry observers to be an ideal
opportunity for providing details of the $60 billion infrastructure plan over
10 years announced in last year's provincial election campaign. Those details
are still not available but it is clear that regulations are still needed
under the Sustainable Water and Sewer System Act, 2002.
    Tackling the water infrastructure deficit will require years of
consistent effort by all stakeholders and predictable funding and financing
over multiple years. We had hoped that the Province would have expanded upon
last year's pilot project through which a total of $40 million was provided to
small and northern municipalities in equal increments over a 5 year period.
    The budget clearly demonstrates that the provincial government simply
cannot hand out the funds to erase the water infrastructure deficit estimated
at $18 billion. Instead, we recommend that the Province should immediately
proceed with regulations under the Sustainable Water and Sewer Systems Act and
ensure full cost pricing, mandatory metering and dedicated reserves for all
residents and businesses using municipal water systems. "For smaller and
northern municipalities that simply cannot afford to move to full cost
pricing, assistance similar to the pilot project announced in the summer of
2007 should be seriously considered", said Frank Zechner, Executive Director
of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA).
    The only measure in today's budget that will make any meaningful
contribution to the vital sewer and watermain infrastructure is a portion of
the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative of $300 million announced
last fall and the additional $150 million announced on February 25, 2008. The
funding for municipal sewer and watermains is in the form of a one time grant
subject to application/competition/approval system. Based on the uptake of the
$140 million Rural Infrastructure Investment Initiative for 2006/2007, about
40% of the total of $450 million in 2007/2008 MIII funds would be used for one
time grants of water infrastructure including treatment plants and pipes.
    Another potential source of funding, namely the proposed Investing in
Ontario Act cannot be counted upon at this time for any water infrastructure
investments. The bill would impose a threshold surplus of at least
$800 million before any surplus is provided for infrastructure funding and the
projected surplus for 2007/2008 is $600 million.
    Other than air to breathe, nothing is more necessary to life than clean
water. Another concern is the leakage that occurs in older systems, with water
losses of 30 per cent and more in many cases. This represents an enormous
waste of resources as all that treated water is lost. A broken or leaking
watermain could also compromise fire-fighting operations. The province's own
Watertight report identified an accumulated backlog of desperately needed
water and sewer repairs in Ontario estimated at up to $18 billion. "Without
that investment, there will be more flooding, more damage to roads, more
sewage diverted to rivers and lakes during storms and more boil-water
advisories," the report concluded.
    We need a focused action plan that includes aggressive capital plans,
full cost pricing, dedicated water revenue reserves and mandatory metering as
well as leak measurement and reduction programs to have truly safe, clean and
sustainable water systems.
    OSWCA has been urging the province to proclaim Bill 175 (the Sustainable
Water and Sewage Systems Act) which was passed six years ago but never became
law. This would go a long way to putting water systems on a firm financial
footing as municipalities would be required to move to full cost pricing for
these services and create dedicated reserves for their water dollars. This was
also a major recommendation of the Walkerton Inquiry.
    "Clean water is fundamental to our existence. It's a necessity of life,
and that means that our water delivery systems are not a discretionary item.
We really don't have a choice and we can no longer afford to delay vital
repairs and replacements," Zechner noted.

    About OSWCA

    OSWCA - which represents over 700 companies within the sewer and
watermain construction industry - is a champion of environmental protection
and best practices in safety and water system management. It is committed to
the construction, rehabilitation, maintenance and expansion of Ontario's core
water and wastewater infrastructure to ensure a plentiful supply of clean
water and the preservation of our lakes and rivers.

For further information:

For further information: Frank Zechner, Executive Director, OSWCA, (905)
629-7766; Rachel Sa, PR POST, (416) 777-0368

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